For many youngsters, their first pet was an inch-long orange goldfish in a globe containing one quart of water. That fish usually passed through the porcelain portals to the afterlife within a year.
Eight years ago, I tried to improve on and recreate that part of my childhood, by putting 40, mostly black, ½ inch long, common and comet goldfish into my parking space sized backyard pond. As they matured, many of them changed color from black to gold, with lovely patterns of white and black stripes and spots. One turned entirely platinum white, and grew to over six inches. Their numbers multiplied to over 100. I dug a second pond, narrower and deeper, and moved about 40 of the prettier fish there. I’d hoped the deeper pond would protect the fish from predators.
Goldfish are nonnative fish that were introduced in the United States in 1850. Here is some goldfish science and history, based on my own observations and paraphrasing from wiki:
The goldfish (Carassius auratus auratus) is a freshwater fish in the family Cyprinidae of order Cypriniformes. The Chinese domesticated goldfish from the Prussian Carp (Carassius auratus) over 1000 years ago. Some of the carps' progeny sported more colors than the typical grey-green Prussian Carp.
The Chinese took advantage of those anomalous colors, and grouped like-colored fish to breed together and produce more vividly colored fish. The Chinese idealized yellow-gold fish, which were exclusively destined for the Royal family's ponds.
Other colors were for lesser folks, with an orange-gold breed becoming most popular over the centuries. A single bright-orange goldfish was once a prized one-year anniversary gift from husband to wife in Europe. At today's price of about 20 cents @ fish, that gift would be considered a little cheap and could cost the newly wed husband a night on the couch.
Some goldfish breeders also encourage mutations that produce physically bizarre goldfish with bulging eyes and other distressing features. Some specialty goldfish have such a twisted digestive tract that they can scarcely poop.
Environmental changes can trigger their color changes. Once I moved the fish into a 30-gallon plastic garbage can while I patched a pond liner. In just a few days, they all changed from solid golds and blacks to a panorama of spots and stripes from black to brown yellow to gold to white. That experience stressed the fish, a couple of them died, so I would not do that again.
My goldfish were all supposed to be "Comets." However, as they grew, they displayed the tail shapes of "Common" goldfish also, so I have two types. The Comets have a longer, forked tail than the Commons. Of course, any pet store will sell "Comets" before admitting the fish are mere "Commons."
Goldfish are unfortunately pervasive worldwide, because of folks releasing their pet fish into the wild, where the fish are hardy, adaptive survivors, and sometimes even cross-breed with resident carp.
But it is virtually impossible to stock a backyard pond in the Pacific northwest with native fish, such as trout, that would survive. I had also cottoned to Asian superstitions about how colored koi fish brought good luck. But kois can costs thousands of dollars. I needed good luck, but goldfish were 8 for a buck. So goldfish.
Goldfish have strong learning abilities, a memory-span of at least three months and good eyesight, which allows them to distinguish between individual humans. My older fish recognized me and would surface at pond side and swim along when I walked by, just in case I dropped some food.
Wiki claims temperatures over 86 F, or under about 10 °C (50 °F) are dangerous to fancy varieties, though common and comets can survive slightly lower temperatures. In my experience, goldfish still enjoy water temperatures at 80 F and higher, as long as the water remains aerated from pumps and fountains. Ponds that have iced over for weeks do not seem to bother them.
The largest recorded goldfish in history is nearly 1.5 feet long and 4.2 pounds. Pet owners has apparently dumped that goldfish and dozens of others into Lake Tahoe.
Goldfish, like all carp, poop at high rates and are fouling those once-pristine waters.
I witnessed the draining of Commonwealth Lake, in Portland Oregon. As the pond drained, the unexpected angry thrashing in the foot-deep water of a pleiosaur-like six foot sturgeon frightened the workers.
After Fish & Game removed the sturgeon, planted there originally by a rogue fisherman, I ventured onto the muddy pond bottom. I could see a mammoth goldfish, certainly well over a foot long, struggling in the shallows. Many other foot-long goldfish, all certainly dumped from suburban goldfish bowls during the last decade, also roiled the muddy waters. The mud was too deep and the remaining pond was too large to retrieve the big fish. Had I known a world record was at stake, I'd have gotten muddier.
Years earlier, I had a shallow pond before where raccoons waded in and cleaned out every fish. So I made my new ponds 2 to 3.5 feet deep.
Instead of coons, visiting herons (named Billy and Pat) began controlling the gold fish population, sometimes spearing a fish a minute. Click on the photo to improve clarity, thanks to lighthouse mode.
I’d named a few of the more striking fish, but their vivid colors made them too obvious to the efficient heron. The faster they became colorful, the faster they vanished.
I did see a coon and skunk rarely, and a bullfrog or two moved in, and I knew they’d take a few fish too. Oddly, the skunk drowned in the pond.
But the heron was the master. I love Billy and Pat Heron, and enjoy having heron feeders instead of goldfish ponds in the backyard.
But I mentally urged the prettier fish to dive deep when the heron approached. Yet despite my wishes, some beautiful and large fish still persist in lolling on the water’s surface, painfully available to the heron. Please click on the photo of a better image.
The fish probably enjoyed the Spring sun, the bug feasts, and waiting for the official dusk feeding time, as they doubtlessly talked with a goldfish-version of Barry White’s voice to the egg-bearing female goldfish, slyly suggesting an clandestine meeting among the water iris stalks.
The male goldfish forces the female against pond plants or other surfaces, squeezing out her eggs. He then fertilizes the eggs. Then the other goldfish eat most of the eggs. The remainder hatch into fry in 72 hours, after which the larger goldfish eat most of the fry. The female goldfish produces about 500 young a year, few of which survive.
Many of the fish approach the official dusk fish food feeding differently. Some swim right to the surface, mouths agape, as soon as I walk up, and scarf up the food greedily. Others lurk among the plants, waiting for an opening, and then suddenly dart out and grab a pellet, and speed back to safety.
These observations lead to another Fractured Fairy Table about one of the more headstrong fish, who seemed so cocky I named him Rey, Spanish for king.
Rey wasn’t the biggest fish in the pond, but he was quite aggressive, and the black marking on his head was intriguing and looked like a crown. He was usually among the first to dart out from under the floating lily leaves at the dusk feeding time, gobbling the floating fish food with verve. He, alone among the goldfish, would actually attack other fish at feeding time and drive them away.
One afternoon he ventured to the bottom of the 4-foot-deep pond, swimming restlessly, nibbling at a cattail stalk here, a wapato leaf there, when suddenly he found himself in a school among the largest fish in the pond, all jet black, circling in the pond’s lower depths.
“HI, I’m Rey,” He said,”I’ve come down here to tell you how we can make this a far better pond!”
“We know who you are,” the largest black fish responded,”We’ve watched your antics for quite some time. We’ve got some advice for you.”
“You have advice for me?” Rey scoffed,” I’ve studied our situation carefully, and I’m very smart. You should be following my lead. I’m the one offering advice to you.”
“Rey,” the big fish continued, ”We’ve been here before you were even a milt-speared egg on a water iris stalk. All the fish here are your brothers and sisters. Literally. You should stop sniping at your pond mates and listen to them. Every one of them could know something that could help you.”
“Hah!” Rey, ”None of them, including you, knows nearly as much as me. In fact, you and your ilk are so ignorant that you are actually on the side of the herons and bullfrogs and coons that oppress us. I’m not interested in anything you have to say, so shut up!”
“Rey, take your time. Listen to the other fish. Find out what they know, and figure out what they are willing to do before you start preaching,” the big black fish concluded.
Rey didn’t even respond. He spun about and swam back to the surface. He met there with dozens of smaller fish, some of whom were less glib than Rey and some who were impressed by Rey’s crown-like head markings.
“Well I’ve been down talking to the big fish at the pond bottom,” Rey said,”They know nothing, and what they know is wrong. In fact, I suspect they are actually our enemies, probably hoping for a little extra fish food at our expense.”
“That’s right Rey,” cried a few fish,”Great insight” called others, “Brilliant” said a few more.
“So who is with me?” Rey questioned,”Who will dart out early, defy the heron, and grab the lion’s share of the fish food tomorrow at dusk?”
The other fish looked at each other uneasily. Some of them remembered what it was like to be the first out, and then see the heron’s beak burst through the water’s surface, impaling their fellow fish just a few inches away. They all knew it was better just to hide among the pond plants, wait a few heartbeats and watch for danger before venturing forth.
But a few could not resist Rey’s call. “We’ll go! We’ll go!” They answered.
“Great,” Rey said, “We’ll meet under the lily pad when the shadows cross the water tomorrow afternoon.”
And that’s where they met the next afternoon. Dusk approached. The fish food would splash onto the water soon.
“Go now! Go now!” Rey urged. Some fish obeyed, and darted from within the Rushes, out into the open water where the fish food would soon fall. Rey, however, waited in safety.
Instead of fish food falling, the heron’s knife-like beak speared into the water. Rey watched from beneath the lily pad, horrified, as two fish at once were torn away. A few seconds later, the heron snatched up two more stunned fish. Rey backed up, deep under the lily pad, his heart pounding.
But to a heron, whose eyesight could spot coal in dark water at midnight, a colored fish at water’s surface, even under a lily pad, is child’s play. The heron targeted Rey next.
The moral of this fractured fairy tale is:
Advice from the wise is wasted on the headstrong.